If you just tuned in to Erez Eltawil’s nightmarish story on Locked Up Abroad: Colombian Kidnap, I’m sure you have questions. We checked in with Erez to get answers and see what life is like for him today and here’s what he had to say:

What was the original draw to Colombia for you?
I was looking for a place to relax and party, with nearby beaches in order to end my trip in a relaxed, chill-out atmosphere. My original plan was to go back to Brazil, where I started my South-American journey, but I’ve met some travelers in Peru who recommended Colombia. Since it was cheaper and closer to get to, I decided to change my plans.

How long had you been traveling before you wound up in Santa Marta? Had you heard stories of people being kidnapped, or been warned about potential safety issues? 
I have been traveling for eight months in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru. Colombia was my last stop before heading for the states. I’d heard about the guerrillas in Colombia from other travelers and that there are kidnappings there, but everyone I met that had been there insisted that they are not interested in foreigners and only kidnap local people for money.

During all the marching and moving in captivity, were you allow to continue carrying your belongings? (if yes…) How much weight was on your back?
We were allowed to take our bags but the kidnappers wouldn’t let me take my sleeping bag. I carried a big hiking bag with two sets of clothes (one for hot weather and one for cold), a pack of cards and a mini disc player (which was taken away after a few days). Later on we received blankets to carry around in our bags for the cold nights.

What did your group do for food and drink?
Food was not our responsibility. Our captors made all the food themselves and split it up among us. We each made our own “plate” from a fruit called “uyama” and ate from that. We each had a bottle and we filled it up with water from the river. We also picked up fruits and plants (like sabra and sugar canes) and ate it along the road.

What weather conditions, insects, and terrain did you have to endure in the jungle? 
The weather and insects were two of the big problems in the Jungle. The road was always muddy, so we kept falling and hurting ourselves as we walked. The change of weather between sunny and rain was constant, and we had to walk with wet clothes for many miles. I also constantly got bit by mosquitoes and ants, and I even had a rat run over my had while I slept. We also encountered a snake for a short while near our bags, but no one got bitten. I had one mosquito bite on my lower back get badly infected, and I had to get some antibiotic shots in the Jungle.

After you challenged your captors by sitting down during a march, did they treat you any differently?
I truly believe the kidnappers had as bad a time as we did during the whole kidnapping. They knew that making our lives bad would reflect on them as well. As a result, they kept threatening us that if we didn’t walk they were gonna treat us badly, but they never held themselves to that promise.

Were you ever allowed to contact your family (write a letter, etc…) during your captivity, or did they handle the hostage negotiations alone?
The only contact we had with our families were through a “proof of life” video, in which we gave a message to our families in Hebrew, but they never released that part. We also had contact through a special program on the Colombian radio, in which the parents of the four Israelis were interviewed and sent us messages.

The negotiations were held between the government of Colombia and the head’s of the ELN (the guerrillas) with the mediation of the Catholic church.

What went through your mind when Reini was released and you were still a hostage? 
Every emotion I had during the captivity was bi-polar. On the one hand, I was thrilled for her, because she had a very hard time being the only woman captive. I was also glad because it meant that they were releasing people and that’s always a good sign.

On the other hand, it got me really down because now that they’ve released Reini and Asier, something really big needs to happen in order for them to release us. The mixed emotions were very typical to every piece of news we got, and it was not different with Reini’s release.

Did you learn anything about yourself during captivity?
I would like to say I’ve learned something about myself, but I don’t think I have. Every state of mind I was in during captivity was extraordinary and doesn’t reflect on anything in the real world. When I was released, I thought I would take life in a more relaxed manner. But as time goes by, routine takes over and it all goes back to the way it was.

It sounds like you had quite a homecoming after your release! What were those first few days home like? And what’s life like for you now?
The first few days were really euphoric. I had friends and family coming to visit constantly. I had my brother and sister arrange a late birthday party (I celebrated my 24th birthday in the Jungle). I even had a huge welcome sign from the city council congratulating me on my release. I also got a few free vacations to help me relax. I did, however, decide to get a job quickly so I would not concentrate on what I’d been through. I started working in a DVD rental place quickly after getting back.

Do you still have plans to visit The Lost City?
I have already been back to Colombia. I was there for a week with Reini, Mark and Ido, to film a documentary about returning to the lost city and facing the kidnappers (which I didn’t get to do since he wouldn’t meet with the Israelis). It was good closure for me, and if I ever get the chance to go back again I would love to.

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Watch an all new episode of Locked Up Abroad: Caribbean Nightmare, Wednesday, June 20th at 10P et/pt.

Comments

  1. Roderick van Roosendaal
    Breda, Holland.
    October 16, 2012, 10:57 am

    Why did you get mad at Reini for not sharing her 2nd cola? When you drank HER first cola yourself.

  2. jr
    usa detroit
    November 24, 2012, 3:13 pm

    he got mad because she was a selfish child throughout the whole ordeal. she was kissing the guerrillas asses and hoping she could screw one of them to earn her freedom. In short she only cared about her own safety, and all she did was make excuses and blame the other hostages for her behavior. In the end she saw her self as one of them. that is why she was holding a gun in her photo. I think she lied about what happened after she left them. i think she went to live with the guerrillas until she was set free. In any case i think the hero in this story was erez for his bravery and modesty after the fact. btw four people drank from that 12oz can and if you notice he went last. there couldn’t have been more than 4ozs left in it when he got it and there was still some left when he handed it to her. SO DO THE MATH!! SHE PROBABLY GOT 2OZS LIKE EVERYONE ELSE! of course she is selfish and that wasn’t enough. she had to have more than everyone else!! Glad the german government saw through her poor me act and made her pay for the helicopter. I would have just been happy to be alive like most people, but not her still complaining! feel bad for who ever married that cry baby.

  3. jr
    usa detroit
    November 24, 2012, 4:02 pm

    he got mad because she was a selfish child throughout the whole ordeal. she was kissing the guerrillas buts and hoping she could sleep with one of them to earn her freedom. In short she only cared about her own safety, and all she did was make excuses and blame the other hostages for her behavior. In the end she saw her self as one of them. that is why she was holding a gun in her photo. I think she lied about what happened after she left them. i think she went to live with the guerrillas until she was set free. In any case i think the hero in this story was erez for his bravery and modesty after the fact. btw four people drank from that 12oz can and if you notice he went last. there couldn’t have been more than 4ozs left in it when he got it and there was still some left when he handed it to her. SO DO THE MATH!! SHE PROBABLY GOT 2OZS LIKE EVERYONE ELSE! of course she is selfish and that wasn’t enough. she had to have more than everyone else!! Glad the german government saw through her poor me act and made her pay for the helicopter. I would have just been happy to be alive like most people, but not her still complaining! feel bad for who ever married that cry baby.

  4. jr
    usa detroit
    December 30, 2012, 8:23 pm

    Reini, if you saw my remarks from earlier I apologize. I made assumptions about you that were not only incorrect were unfair and judgmental. I am truly sorry. After what you went through you don’t deserve that. I actually had a chance to communicate with Erez, and he speaks very fondly of you. He also says you were unfairly portrayed in the story. So once again my most sincerest apology. JR

  5. mary
    Toronto Canada
    November 9, 2013, 3:38 am

    I googled this episode as I was curious to see if the ransom was paid. If so, how much was paid?
    Terrible ordeal and no, Reini should not have had to pay the government of Germany for the helicopter ride. That’s just plain ridiculous. If you are a hostage, you will do anything to stay alive. She did not use bad judgement, only survival instincts. She was also entitled to the second soda as she didn’t get more than a drop from the first.

  6. Rosemary
    January 1, 2:28 pm

    Judgement calls are so unfair. Why would anyone make judgements on anyone? If you were not there, in that situation, and haven’t heard the story from the actual person then I highly suggest you keep an open mind. Taking television programs as undisputed “TRUTH” is unwise and foolish at best, remember they are out to draw an audience and the more dramatic, the more viewers.
    I want to express my good wishes for those who suffered from that experience. I agree with another commenter when they said that these people were using survival instincts.